WASHINGTON — The forcible removal of a passenger from an sold-out airplane has senators demanding answers from the embattled chief executive officer of United Airlines.
And the importance of airline travel to Nevada, a major tourism destination, has the state’s two senators actively seeking a quick resolution, arguing that the incident could shatter consumer consumer confidence in air carriers.
The passenger, Dr. David Dao, was one of four passengers ordered to give up their seats Sunday on United Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky, to accommodate United employees.
When Dao protested, he was physically dragged by uniformed security personnel from the airplane. Alarmed passengers took videos, some showing Dao bleeding from the altercation.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz apologized for the mistreatment of Dao, but videos of the incident had already gone viral, creating a escalating crisis for the airline that now includes calls for a boycott.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., was one of 21 Senate Democrats who wrote a letter to Munoz Tuesday seeking more answers about the forcible removal of Dao.
“At a time when the airline industry is earning record profits, it is our hope that the industry can make great strides to improve customer service and implement best practices,” the senators said in a letter.
The lawmakers, led by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill, have a laundry list of questions for United Airlines and set an April 24 deadline for answers.
Among their questions: Is United Airlines policy “to use taxpayer-funded law enforcement to forcibly remove paying passengers for non-security reasons?”
The lawmakers also want to know how many passengers were forcibly removed from United airplanes last year.
In addition, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is reviewing the actions of United and could examine the industry practice of removing of ticketed passengers on full or overbooked flights.
Nevada’s Republican Sen. Dean Heller, who sits on the committee, told the Review-Journal on Wednesday he is “horrified” by the treatment of the passenger and wrote a letter urging committee Chairman John Thune of South Dakota and ranking Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida to schedule a hearing on the issue.
“Given the seriousness of what happened and how it could impact travel and tourism and my state and many other states, I believe it is critical that the committee have relevant witnesses testify about how to protect airline customers from situations such as this,” he wrote.
Contact Gary Martin at 202-662-7390 or email@example.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.
Fallout from the incident
Social media users in China mount a viral campaign in China to boycott the company, maintaining that passenger Dr. David Dao of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, was singled out because he is Asian.
United’s stock plunged 4.4 percent as video of the removal ricocheted around the Internet, reaching a low of $68.46 on Tuesday before recovering somewhat.
United customers post photos of cut-up United-Chase frequent flyer credit cards on social media. “Dear United: I just ‘re-accommodated’ my credit card,” one customer tweeted.
Late-night comedians and amateurs on social media have a field day with the incident, spawning a number of trending hashtags on Twitter such as #newunitedairlinesmottos
Senate Democrats, including Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, send letter to United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz demanding answers on the airline’s policies on removal of paying passengers and statistics on how often it occurs, setting an April 24 deadline for a response.
Nevada’s Republican senator, Dean Heller, who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee, says he has asked Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., to call a hearing on the incident.